BPD: A Snapshot (and a moment of gratitude)

So much of the essence of borderline personality disorder is about duality, especially when things are at their lowest – their “most BPDish.” The blackness of depression and the white of blinding rage become the only two emotional options that seem to exist. I oscillate between equally miserable but totally opposite feelings: one moment a long-forgotten shipwreck, watching life and light go by miles above – rotting, disappearing under fathoms of cold, dark silence; one moment a baited animal in a crushing crowd of oblivious onlookers – everything too bright, too loud, too much, too painful, and everyone laughing themselves sick.

Everyone but me.

It is the phrase that has defined my consciousness for about 20 years. Everyone but me has something – I have nothing. Everyone but me has a chance at happiness – I never will. Everyone but me can make real friends – I can’t. Everyone but me does not to feel like this – I do. Does it sound too self-pitying to be believed? It kind of is. Welcome to being a borderline. Realizing (and usually fully agreeing) that no one should have to put up with the annoying, self-absorbed, angry, bitter, evil, manipulative *insert umpteen other negative adjectives* inner you – the real you. 

Obviously those are not logical or factual, those statements. Obviously any numbnut can immediately point out that you only feel that they are “real” (a dismissive slap in and of itself, isn’t it?), and that in reality, many people can relate to what you are going through, and that you’re a good person (whatever that means), and there are all kinds of help out there, and the feelings will pass if you distract yourself and blah blah blah blah…. 
About there is where I have to really struggle not to just sink back below the waves. Numb. Away from anger, pain, fear, frantic distress, endless despair, and all the other things I no longer know how to separate from the very core of who I am. It hits me in a wave of exhaustion and I feel like a nauseating adolescent for even thinking it but it keeps proving to be true: I just can’t make anyone understand. 
I can’t convey it. I have tried, and I’m trying even now, but I have never had it be worth it that I did try. On the contrary, the risk is that trying to explain, to make that connection with someone, is, for me, a borderline suicidal tendency: I can’t handle the emotional equivalent of a paper cut, but I essentially hand over my raw innards and a cleaver every time I look to someone for help or comfort or understanding – particularly with all of this

And then I can’t help but laugh at the irony of our absurd predicament. They destroy me with a weapon they have never asked for – one they wield without even knowing it, gouging and grinding me to bits just by standing there, bewildered, not knowing what to say or how to help. How fucked up is that? How utterly ridiculous is that?

That was how I felt until about six months ago. That was how I always felt inside, until I came across the term: borderline personality disorder. And then one by one, the pieces started to fall into place. It feels like most of them are still very much out of place, but even getting a few key ones in there – an explanation, a specific treatment plan, a label that unites me with other people who feel exactly like this – is a big deal. I take so much comfort from the fact that I am not as alone as I always thought. 

Even if I had only come across one blog, one single person – even if we never met or interacted – who could describe exactly what my life has felt like, it would have broken my heart with hope. Because it would mean that in no uncertain terms, I have been wrong: I am not the only person that feels like this. And who knows what else I’ve been wrong about in the process?

It’s an odd thing to feel so hopeful about, but I can’t tell you how much of an impact that realization has had on me as I’ve read blog after blog, article after article, comment after comment written by people who clearly do understand.

Thank you seems really inadequate; however, they’re only words we really have for the sentiment. So thank you, to everyone who takes the time to write about their BPD experiences, and, of course to read or comment on mine. 

-Cat Earnshaw xx 




Memories – how do you know when they are recovered or fabricated?

This will be a short post as I feel I’ve perhaps been posting too much (is that a thing? I feel like it’s a thing) on here. Basically, I just wanted to see if anyone has anything to say on the topic of false memory syndrome and the wildly controversial ‘recovered memory therapy’ (RMT).

As you may or may not recall, RMT led to dozens, if not hundreds of individuals (apparently) confusing “memories” of trauma with traumatic thoughts or feelings they had used to create false memories. These “memories” in turn brought actual allegations of abuse, which in turn brought successful lawsuits against many of the psychiatrists who had practised RMT.

Many, many, MANY times throughout my life, I have wondered whether I was abused but cannot remember it. Aside from the severe mental illness/BPD that I’ve suffered from, my “evidence” of this possibility comes in the form of: vague feelings of panic and distress surrounding sexuality, panic at being alone with any single adult as a child, inability to tolerate rape/abuse scenes in movies (I have to get up and leave the theatre I feel so freaked out), and feelings of shame/being used or abused following totally consensual and non-abusive sex. 

When I asked my therapist if this horrible possibility could somehow be a reality that I’ve obscured all memory of, she said, unequivocally, that yes, it very well could be. But I’m not convinced. I’ve been reading a lot of various blogs and articles on sexual abuse and false memories of the same, and I feel more distressed and less sure about anything than ever.

I realize this is a lot to ask – particularly if you have, in fact, been sexually abused – but if you have any thoughts on this topic, any insight or advice, I’d be most grateful to hear it (and, of course, feel free to contact me via private email/message if you’d prefer not to post on here).

Cat xxxx


Being the hero/heroine in your own (big fat selfish?) story

Not that I’m much for perusing the internet in search of intellectual stimulation (due to encountering the opposite phenomenon 99% of the time instead), but I happened to see an article today on “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” – found here, if you’re interested. The article isn’t that long and it’s not too much of a revelation, in my opinion, but it’s worth a read for the sake of reflection.

FYI, some technical definitions of terms found in the article:

“Generation Y” = anyone born between the late 70s and early 90s

“Yuppie” = (usually) derogatory term for young urban professionals.

The author goes on to note that there is a dreaded ‘unique brand of yuppie’ whom they have designated a GYPSY: Gen Y Protagonist & Special Yuppie. This poor GYPSY, the author hypothesises (through a bunch of shitty “internet humour” cartoon drawings in some kind of sad attempt to be Hyperbole and a Half), stumbles through life generally miserable because their expectations are too high, their sense of self-importance/self-worth is far too inflated, and their view of life is therefore literally delusional. Unlike anyone else in the history of the world (the author posits), GYPSYs believe that they are the special, important protagonist in their own life story.

HAHAHA I mean isn’t that just CRAZY? Who the hell thinks of themselves as a unique being? Who doesn’t think of themselves as simply a uniform, unoriginal, pointless brick in the long road of human history? They must be sooooo full of themselves, like whoa.

Irritated yet?

If you belong to Gen Y (and many borderlines do) – or even if you don’t – you will likely be feeling as disgruntled as I was with each sentence of this absurdly simplistic article. So pointless. This article can go in the trash along with those idiotic slogans/feel-good posters that seek to transform all of life’s troubles into silly, unnecessary trifles that just need to be magicked away with positive rainbows of simplicity, like the ass-hats in these examples would have you believe…


ARGH! Life. Is. Not. Simple. Not for anyone. I understand the sentiment here (namely, “Do what you can to simplify life”), but it clearly only goes so far. Real life is full of pesky “complications” – of which mental illness is a HUGE one. Oh and death, violence, cruelty, trauma, disaster, disease, disability, poverty, etc. etc.  But hey, if we drink enough water, eat organic fruit and give lots of hugs, they should all sort themselves out, right?

Come on. 

I used to brood on the fact that life is, for the most part and for most people, a boiling pit of chaos and woe (OK I still do a lot of the time). I see this view of the world as very integral to my BPD: the idea that we are each alone in a little cell of our own consciousness, struggling to make contact of any meaningful kind with others. The problem, as I saw it, with myself and other borderlines is that we seem to be hyper-aware of that depressing reality, and also extremely resistant to the healthy, meaningful relationships that seem to give other people’s lives (as I viewed it) meaning. For this reason, a lot of borderlines waste a lot of time and heartache on really terrible relationships, seeking to capture the meaning that ‘other people’ seem to have via their lovers, spouses, kids, functional families, etc. etc. whatever.

But we’ve got it all backwards, and it takes a lot of work to understand that. The fact is that life is about finding your very own, super personalized meaning in among all the meaninglessness. It’s not selfish. It’s not self-absorbed (or if it is, it shouldn’t be considered a bad thing). Sometimes I think of all the things that supposedly make our little human lives meaningful and think I don’t have them: no sense of a greater calling or what I’m “meant” to be, no relationships that I feel like I’d die without, no one who looks to me for meaning in their own life.

But then, more importantly… so what?

As I progress in my treatment for BPD, I’m learning how to identify and value what is meaningful to me, what gives my hours and days and months meaning. For me, it’s about being healthy and strong. It’s about doing something that I think is soul-enriching at least once a day. It’s about bringing something positive to other people but not getting lost in their identity/wants/needs/etc.  It’s about giving my two cents when I think it matters, even when I feel like there’s no point, just to remind myself that I am entitled to my voice and my thoughts. It’s about finding a sense of community and understanding, even when I have to work pretty hard to find it (and even if that means finding it in people I will never meet, like my favourite authors/poets). And yes, it’s about bigger things like ‘making a difference’ through the long-term paths that I will choose, but to be honest, I’m not even close to considering all that yet because I want to get a handle on the smaller stuff first.

Does all that make me self-absorbed? Wildly ambitious? Delusional? A GYPSY? (Oh and side note: Really? Your little cartoon discussion of your stupid theory wasn’t silly enough, you had to add a racist slur in there as an acronym?) I don’t think it makes me all that different from any other person who ever existed.

There are a variety of reasons and ways that those born into the so-called ‘Generation Y’ are unhappy, stressed, depressed and generally burnt out. But it has way less to do with supposedly being raised with too much focus on self-esteem (which does create incredibly annoying personalities, I’ll grant the author that) and way more to do with the general lack of self-compassion under which virtually everyone – of every generation – is currently suffering. A focus on self – NOT necessarily a focus on ‘self-worth’ and self-absorption – is required to live a happy and healthy life.

After all, if you can’t understand or tolerate (let alone love) your story’s protagonist, then why the hell would you keep reading the book?


Cat xxxx

DBT Technique: Opposite Action



Borderline personality disorder often goes hand-in-hand with a lot of bewildering contradictions (hence the term “borderline” in reference to the division of the personality): 

-too-close emotional relationships versus far-too-distant relationships 
-over-the-top feelings of love and sentimentality versus over-the-top feelings of rage and hate; 
-feeling one way and acting another; 
-thinking one thing and saying another; etc. etc.  
It’s this contradictory aspect of BPD that made it very, very difficult for me to approach the dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) technique known as ‘opposite action.” 
In fact, it took me months to even consider the concept: I thought it sounded far too similar to what I’d already been doing for years – lying, acting, performing, building a hollow exterior that I initially used as protection and later found to be a very real and effective prison for my emotions, my thoughts, my identity. I had no interest in learning to “adopt a smile” (as one of the DBT handouts suggested) when I felt rage or despair – I was already too damn good at that already, thanks very much. What a stupid suggestion, right?
However, what I would not have learned if I had just been reviewing the DBT sheets/info on my own, is that opposite action is actually NOT duplicity at all. It’s not ignoring what you’re actually feeling, nor is it acting or lying, and it should never be a performance for anyone – least of all yourself. I thought our group leader explained it way better than any of the DBT materials did.
In a nutshell, opposite action means doing what is most helpful, effective and healthy for yourself when you feel like doing what is harmful, ineffective and unhealthy.
It’s widely acknowledged as one of the hardest DBT skills to master – for anyone, let alone for borderlines – because it involves directly opposing the habits and instincts that have become second nature to us over many years. Furthermore, borderlines are so accustomed to feeling invalidated that any effort to do the opposite of what feels cathartic (i.e. not screaming in rage when you feel extreme rage) feels like a typical dismissal of our painfully strong emotions, which is exactly what caused and defines the condition (a key piece, as discussed in my last post on the utmost importance of SELF-validation).
Today I struggled with a situation I have encountered dozens, probably hundreds of times. Yesterday evening I felt I had exposed my feelings to a friend – I thought I had made it pretty clear how awful and invalidated I felt. That friend (my roommate, incidentally) didn’t say anything that felt validating, and they left no indication that the conversation meant anything at all to them. Ouch and ouch. A BPDer’s nightmare: making yourself vulnerable and feeling totally rejected and invalidated by the experience – thus adding to the extensive catalogue of identical experiences, which we keep an unforgivable grip on in order to feed the familiar and “safe” belief that no one cares, no one can help, and we might as well give up on everyone else as well as ourselves.
Typically, pre-DBT and before I knew anything about identifying harmful instincts let alone resisting them, I would have spent today doing two things: 1) being utterly miserable, depressed and furious with myself for being vulnerable enough to let something make me feel this way; 2) Doing everything I could to express and validate my pain to myself and, even more so, to “punish” the person who hurt me by showing how deeply they hurt me. I’d probably spend the day wallowing in bed, popping sleeping pills whenever I woke up, so that my roommate would see how horrible they’d made me feel yesterday, how horrible a friend they were to me. If I was feeling really down, I’d probably stay awake enough to let myself take a trip down memory lane – feeding my pain, my despair, my self-righteous anger with plenty of examples from the past that prove how right I am to feel that way. And those kinds of memories can get bad enough to lead to worse kinds of self-harm, working me deeper and deeper into a hole that takes more and more self-punishment to communicate just how bad things are. It culminates in an impossible situation: I feel so awful that I can’t let anything good or positive even enter my mind, because doing so feels like dismissing (and further invalidating) all the pain that will never be healed.
Just writing that made me feel a bit sick and in a pretty dark spot.
So, moving on.
Opposite action is THE exercise du jour for moments like these. I’m far from adept at it – in fact I’m actually kind of awful at it for the time being – but I’ve been specifically focusing on it for a couple weeks now to try to get my head around it. Aside from resisting pathways my brain, body and emotions have taken for over two decades, the other hardest part about opposite action is that its core motivation is self-care and self-love. Just removing – even for one minute – the conviction that you don’t deserve to feel better and you shouldn’t have to take care of yourself is a big deal and huge accomplishment for a borderline. Once you can accept that you need your own love and acceptance first, you can start giving it through opposite actions. Some examples:
-If you feel a harmful level of anger or self-destructive rage coming on, think and verbalize the realization: “I’m getting really angry and I deserve to feel angry about being hurt, but this is not going to help me right now.” Then (opposite action) ‘treat’ that anger with things that soothe and/or release it: videos or photos that make you laugh, a soothing meditation clip (on youtube or grooveshark), or a really long intensive stretch or workout session in which you focus on releasing anger from your body.
-If you feel stressed and overwhelmed about life, do activities that make you feel organized and in control: make to-do lists (and address each item mindfully, not worrying about all the other items but addressing each one with your full attention), finish some task that has been hanging over you, clean your house/room (this is a favourite of mine! I am big on the notion that a clear and tidy environment helps your mind feel the same way), cook something in bulk and freeze portions so that you are prepared for future lunches or dinners that week.
-If you feel worthless, choose activities that remind you that you have great worth: perform random acts of kindness, ask a good friend or family member to tell you what they like about you, or do something nice for your kids or pets if you have them (an extra long walk with the dog, building a little fort for your cat, or a special outing with kids) – there is no quicker hit of self-worth than the look on a child or animal’s face when you are doing something wonderful for them! *Disclaimer: ok, let’s be honest, it is unlikely a cat will deign to grace you with any display of gratitude, but you can probably imagine that they’re just hiding it well…*
-If you feel sad, pretend that someone you really care about has told you they’re feeling in need of comfort and then treat yourself that way: draw a hot bath, give yourself a long body scrub and moisturize, savour a delicious treat (but try not to give into emotional over-eating), watch a movie that makes you feel comforted, wallow in cozy clothes and blankets, read a book that makes you happy, or do anything else that absorbs your attention and comforts you without trying to mask or suppress the pain and sadness.
-If you feel weak and beaten down by life, do and consume things that make you feel strong: eat well (lots of protein, B12, and iron, which are big components of energy levels), drink tons of water (you really don’t know real fatigue until you’re both depressed and dehydrated, trust me!), and work the wonderful body you’ve been gifted: lift soup cans while watching tv, explore youtube for exercises you like, or put on your iPod and run from your house as far as you can each day before walking home – start with literally 30-60 seconds run if that’s all you can manage. I am a lifelong enemy of exercise but I cannot deny that taking on even a tiny workout routine (I try for just 15 minutes a day of simple ballet-based exercises) and seeing the results build up over months has given me a LOT of strength in many different ways. To stay motivated and feel stronger, read, watch and think about things that inspire (not intimidate or depress) you – books or videos about any figure you admire who overcame adversity and persevered. 
It’s worth noting that opposite action is obviously not the only technique or solution for dealing with difficult emotions: sometimes it isn’t called for, and it takes a lot of self-awareness to learn to recognize those times you really need to indulge your emotions (to an extent) in order to validate and release (e.g. them with a sad movie and a private sob-fest), versus the times you really need to resist indulging those emotions so they don’t turn destructive.
So, what am I actually doing today? Sitting here on a hot day in a long-sleeved shirt (opposite of thinking about cutting), watching a childhood favourite cartoon (opposite of focusing on angry, vengeful thoughts), enjoying tea with a few squares of dark chocolate (opposite of eating nothing to punish myself), and writing this post with the hope of helping others with this awful disorder (opposite of focusing on feeling cut off, lonely and pointless/worthless). Did I manage to do these things without indulging in a tiny bit of destructive emotions? No, and I now really, really regret the extremely bitchy text I sent my friend for what happened yesterday. Sigh. 😦  But I’m trying not to focus on that just now. Mistakes are inevitable.
It makes me cringe quite a bit to say this (God how I still hate this self-validation/self-care thing) but in spite of the slip-up furious text, I am pretty fucking proud of myself right now. It’s years since I could experience something as strong as the anger that comes from feeling invalidated and do anything but implode in various self-destructive ways. 
Do you ever use opposite action? Please share any suggestions you have with me….
Cat Earnshaw xx

Self-validation and the Eff-Word

Nope, not that eff-word. I love that eff-word – where would we be without it’s delightfully releasing fricative force?


I’m talking about Facebook. Bane of my life and perverter of otherwise normal days into wasted little husks. 
Reasons why I (tell myself that I) keep Facebook in my life:
1) The photos. I am a huge traveller and I love that most people post photos from their various travels. It’s a great way to get insight or inspiration when trip-planning. Similarly, I love being able to post my photos from trips I’ve taken so that my family and friends don’t have to sit down for a boring slideshow in order for me to let them know how my trip was. 
2) Keeping in touch with people I genuinely care about. This is actually a secondary reason to the photos one, because I could obviously just shoot off emails to them. But of the people I’d like to stay in touch with on facebook, there are very few that I’d actually email (chances are I don’t even have their emails): distant cousins, childhood playmates, friends of your parents, etc. etc. 
*shameful reason* 3) I’m terrified of being “left out” if I left Facebook. I’m not exactly a social butterfly anymore, so if I wasn’t able to see all the “group invites/events,” it’s possible people wouldn’t think to invite me to anything via other methods of communication. At least that’s my paranoid thought process, much as I hate to admit it.
The reasons I should leave Facebook are way too numerous to mention, so I won’t list them out. But anyone can easily think what they are. Aside from the sheer number of wasted hours you can spend with your eyes glued to a little screen taking in oddly addictive information that you don’t actually care about (ummm sadly kind of the story of the Internet, in general, for me), Facebook and all its stupid, stupid little trivial dramas can ruin my mood. Just shatter it. And I really don’t like the person I am when I’m in its thrall.
A very real and recent example: me logging into the eff-word to find that one of my best (albeit now far-off) friends is in touch with someone who hurt me very badly in the past. In fact, she’s evidently more ‘in touch’ with him than she is with me, as they were chumming it up in some recent photos while she hasn’t seen fit to return any of my emails for a few months now. Ouch. 
My reaction? Delete. Cut out the friendship entirely in a very silly and immature way. This is someone who I feel deserves an explanation – but she hasn’t asked for one (so now I’ve added to this equation the stress of not knowing what she even knows!). If it weren’t for Facebook, sure I could have found out that my friend had ‘betrayed’ me from some other source, but there’s a good chance I would have found out from her, accompanied by some kind of explanation.
Aside from the unnecessary downer/drama aspect of Facebook, the comparison aspect kills me as well. Whether or not we’ll all admit it, we all know that Facebook’s primary reason for existence is to compare ourselves to other people – consciously or unconsciously. Examples:
“OMG they’re on their fourth kid and they have a body like Kate Moss!?!? How is this possible?!” (implicit thought process: I’m fat and ugly and I don’t even have any kids to justify it). 
“OMG they finished that PhD they were working on and now they’ve bought their first home” (implicit thought process: I’m stupid and my life sucks compared to everyone else’s.) 
Be honest: how many Facebook photos have you posted with the knowledge that “this will make people jealous of me/my life”?  For me, it’s a lot. A hell of a lot. Admitting that disgusts me and fills me with deep self-loathing. I feel shallow and pathetic. I do not want to want to make other people jealous of me – which obviously smacks of insecurity. And the irony is, by engaging in this process myself, I should be realizing that people ALL do this on Facebook – including all the people I feel so jealous of sometimes. They ALL work to present a version of themselves/their lives that other people will be impressed with.
There are a number of recent articles on the explosion of mental health issues related to Facebook, and one I read made the excellent point that Facebook is a “best of” reel of each user’s life. It’s like a little movie we each work so hard to compile and edit (and edit and edit and edit) in order to feel validated by other’s people’s respect or admiration. 
The problem is that all of this is a presentation. Like the beautiful but miserable celebrity head-case who is glorified as “naturally beautiful” after hundreds of dollars of fake hair dye, make up, plastic surgery and expensive clothes, you know deep down that it’s all just a presentation. And you can never ever feel happy or validated if all you’re exposing for validation is, essentially, a lie. 
The only way to break the cycle is to present the truth – the whole truth. But Facebook is SO not the venue for that either! None of us want to be that sad-ass person who posts their every emotion and juvenile mood-swing on Facebook (or, for that matter, displays them in real life all the time either). That just reeks of an equally pathetic type of insecurity. 
The real solution? Self-validation. 
I am on the “self-validation” unit of my DBT group which is why this topic is particularly important to me at the moment. Self-validation is the answer to so many BPD problems – but it’s incredibly difficult and deeply counterintuitive if you’ve spend years looking to everyone else to make you feel happy/confident/safe/functional etc etc. 
Self-validation means a quiet inner assurance that what you are feeling is real, logical, understandable and important. To say that in my mind – let alone out loud – is SO HARD. I don’t like myself enough to self-validate, and I simultaneously don’t like that feeling of “letting other people off the hook” (if you know what I mean) by keeping the struggle inside and not putting the burden of it on others’ shoulders. Which is clearly why self-validating essential and I have to learn to do it! :-S  
Without self-validation, you’re overcome with the desire to “act out” what you’re feeling, at any cost, in order to make people realize and validate just how terrible things are for you. When BPDers don’t get “enough” of a reaction to how they’re feeling, they may purposely embellish the problems they have in order to manipulate that validation out of people: they may develop obvious self-harm mechanisms, or even make up “traumatic events” from their past in order to get the reaction they want to their pain. But by doing so, we’re caught in an even worse spot: now we only get validated for the lies/performances/tricks/manipulations we use, and not the actual emotions. And so, the more you have to rely on the lies and performances, and the less real/validated your pain feels, and on and on it goes.
Oh foolish, foolish borderlines, when will ye (or rather, ‘we’) learn?
The old me would have said “never.” The me of even a mere six months ago would have said that. But I’m tentatively being able to consider the possibility of change. I hate these patterns. I hate these coping “tools.” I hate the person that they make me and the effect they have had on my life. Now it’s time to transform that hate (negativity) into growth (positivity) by using it to spur me onwards in the daunting quest for change. I’ve written the following little mantra for myself *squirms with self-consciousness* when I start to feel horrendous emotions or my BPD mode kicking in as a result:
Every hateful and counterproductive BPD “technique” I’ve developed has developed for a good reason: to protect me. However, those techniques are not protecting me anymore – they are hurting me. As I open myself to start feeling emotions, I will take a pause with each one to remember that it is real, important and valid. I deserve to feel everything that I feel, and no one has the power to make me feel otherwise.
Have you ever vowed to give up Facebook? Or even succeeded? And do you self-validate? How?
Cat xx